Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wind Farms Cannot Produce Electricity On Demand

Short excerpt from Energy Facts Report PDF:

Typical availability [for wind farm power] is 20-40%, compared with 60-80% for coal and over 90% for nuclear. Such unpredictable electricity is hard to sell. In addition, note that each windmill contributes only a tiny amount of electricity to the grid, yet it is a major structure. Windmills kill a significant number of bats and birds, some of which are on the endangered species list. This has created concern, at both the local and the federal level, over potential increase in mosquito-borne diseases caused by bats and birds killed by wind-turbines.6

Since thrown blades can kill people nearly a mile away, and windmills must be spaced so as not to interfere with each other’s wind, they must be surrounded by considerable land area. To generate (at peak power) as much electricity as a single 1000-megawatt nuclear plant, a wind-farm would occupy 200 to 300 square miles. (A nuclear power station might have two or more such plants and occupy only about one square mile.) Each two-megawatt wind-turbine is one-third taller than the Statue of Liberty from the ground to the torch-tip. To make these windmills: “Coal-fired cement plants would be needed to make millions of cubic yards of concrete for the bases. Rocks might have to be blasted away, or trees cut down to make room for the bases, towers, and the wind itself.”7 Per kilowatt-hour generated, wind farms require considerably more steel and concrete than a nuclear plant.8 And this cost can be amortized over only the short—typically 15 years—life of wind-turbines. By comparison, nuclear power plants will run for 60 or more years.

If you’d prefer all this be done off-shore, you’ll need monopole towers about nineteen feet in diameter sunk deep into the seabed. Cravens notes that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to test a monopole installation and has announced that four species of endangered turtles, four species of endangered whales, two species of endangered seabirds, and a threatened beach plant may be affected by such an experiment. Warning lights for aircraft and boats would light up the wind-park at night, and foghorns would bellow as needed. An underwater cable would connect the turbines to the grid.” (Curiously, environmentalists don’t appear to mind that cable—just the one across Long Island Sound.)

The above discussion is just to document the fact that the wind-turbines used in connection with “wind power” plants are not at all like the simple, small windmills commonly seen on farms before the electric power grid made them obsolete.

As the magnitude of the intrusion such wind-turbines would make on any neighborhood became apparent, public opposition of the NIMBY type (Not In My Back Yard), reminiscent of early anti-nuclear rallies have sprung up, and given rise to national and international anti-wind-power organizations.9 The bases for objection were many. The Audubon Society was horrified at the bird- and bat-slaughtering capability of these “avian cuisinarts” (their words). The Industrial Wind Action Group opened one of its newsletters with the words: “Building turbines in some of the best places to harvest wind in Ohio could put millions of birds and bats—some protected by state and federal law—at risk.”

...The important fact about wind-turbines is that electric power output varies as the cube of the wind speed. Thus, when wind speed doubles, the power output from the wind-turbine increases eight-fold. A variation from 10 to 12.6 mph doubles the output. And conversely, dropping from the rated speed by a third (from 31 to 21 mph) decreases the power generation by more than two-thirds. This presents a serious problem for the electric power grid, because there is no place to store any significant amounts of electricity. The National Electrical Reliability Council estimates that for safe grid operation, voltage can vary no more than 5% without potential damage to electrical equipment. Information storage and handling systems are even more vulnerable—blips as brief as a sixtieth a second can be damaging.

So, an electric power grid is a continuous delicate balancing act, having to match up each new demand for more electricity by increasing generation accordingly, and matching each turned-off light switch by correspondingly decreasing output from one of its power stations. The grid accomplishes this balancing by maintaining a good-sized “spinning reserve” of some reliable energy source, such as coal or gas. Of course, this is all done automatically, under the coordinated watchful eye of various human operators. But in that situation, having an energy source, such as a wind-farm, that on its own initiative doubles its output or cuts it in half from time to time, is seen as pure mischief. As evidence of this, note that it usually requires 24 hours or more to restabilize the grid after a blackout. If we had never heard of unpredictable energy sources, and we observed unpredictable surges into and out of the grid, we might reasonably suspect sabotage. It is easier to harm the system by scrambling the demand than by blowing up transmission towers.

Not only is a wind-farm’s output unpredictable, but what pattern there is, is often counter-productive. In much of the U.S., the wind is apt to be higher speed and steadier at night, when the demand is lowest. And the gusts are strongest in the spring and fall, when neither heating nor air-conditioning demand is in full swing. But such conditions are local, and some are favorable.

Europe now has enough wind energy to pose serious grid problems. Utilities would not buy wind-power by choice, so they are required to do so by government mandate. One suggested remedy is to disperse the wind turbines over a wide area, to smooth out some of the wind bursts. But this requires that more of the energy travel over greater distances, and even at 500,000 volts (to minimize losses), a significant part of the energy being transmitted is lost as heat on the way. Even within a few tens of miles, as much as 9% is lost. Getting approval to place high-voltage power lines is even harder than for nuclear power plants. _FactsReportPDF

The full report at the link above documents the significant superiority of nuclear energy over unreliable wind and solar.

Charles Barton offers an excellent argument for the sustainability of nuclear power

Nuclear Fusion is an energy dark horse that promises to overturn the established energy order -- if we can find the right approach.

Brian Wang has much more on nuclear fusion

The pursuit of big wind power will guarantee energy obsolescence and starvation for anyone foolish enough to attempt it. Just because the current batch of US politicians advocates for energy starvation is no reason to accept such suicidal policies as appropriate.

Vote them out!



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